Auricula flowers are like exquisite tiny paintings. They cry out to be studied at close hand, with intricate markings, bright colours and patterns – and it’s no wonder people become such avid collectors of these floral works of art.
In the past, auriculas were highly-fashionable, hugely expensive and even had their own theatres in which to be displayed. You can still see the large, 18th Century auricula theatre at the National Trust’s Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, an enormous display cabinet with row after row of these exquisite plants.
Related to primroses (their Latin name is Primula auricula), there are three main types: alpine, border and show. Show types are dusted with an unusual white powder known as farina or meal. They’re trickier to grow than the others, but it’s the plants in this category that are often grown for show or display.
They’re best grown in pots in a cold greenhouse, or on a stand in a sheltered part of the garden where they can be covered during the worst of winter’s weather. Alpine auriculas are more robust and can be grown outside in the garden, as long as the soil is well-drained.
A raised alpine trough or sink filled with a gritty soil mix would be a better option if your soil is heavy or wet. Border auriculas are looser in stature, with frilly-edged petals and single colours. Names such as ‘Dusty Miller’ and ‘Old Irish Blue’ are synonymous with border auriculas. Like the alpines, they’re fairly tough and can be grown in the open.
But what if you just can’t resist those tricky show auriculas? Pops’ Plants, a mail order auricula supplier and Chelsea gold medal winner, recommend a potting mix of one part John Innes no 2 compost, one part multi-purpose and one part grit, with a handful of charcoal (available in boxes in the garden centre), which is good for the compost.
Use a small 9cm (3in) pot, but re-pot them into fresh compost each year, teasing away any baby offshoots that have grown and potting these up individually. Be careful when watering, especially in winter, because they hate sitting in soggy compost. A feed with half-strength, high-potash fertiliser such as tomato food at the end of February will encourage flowers, but mix it at half strength. Enjoy the challenge!
MUST-BUY PLANT… Oregano
Perfect for pizzas and Greek cooking, aromatic oregano is a herb garden must-have, with mid-green leaves and pink flowers bees love in the summer.
Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’
Same flavour but with zingy golden yellow leaves. As ornamental as it is delicious, this beautifully bright foliage plant needn’t be corralled in the herb garden.
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